Weightloss, science and self-love

This is a rewrite of a facebook post that proved really popular with some more detail and thought put into it. 

Very often in health and fitness we see statements like:
“The key to weightloss is X”
“You have to give 100%”
“You just need to be strong!”

The problem is, all of those reduce weightloss (and by extension health, because health has been reduced to a single metric in those people’s minds) to a single factor problem that’s 100% changeable. That just isn’t the case. Take a look at this systems influence diagram, drawn from this project’s data. If you can answer all of these influences (not necessarily strict problems) in one sentence, congrats, you are a wizard.

The other issue with those statements is who cares? They are nearly always reducing health to a single metric, body weight. I’ve stopped caring about weight except as a reference point when people want to use it. I want to help people unravel their fuckedupness (which we all have), build on they are great at (which we also all have), accept the parts that are outside of their control, and see what happens. Weight is a really important issue to many of my clients, but to be a good coach I feel like I had to let go of it being important to me, and that’s a step so many fitness people need to take.

We also need to consider that unwanted weight loss or gain is a symptom of something, not necessarily the problem itself. That requires understanding the individual causes for that person. That also means that a habit based approach (focusing on things like mindfulness, stress, food diversity and hunger sensitivity) will likely work for everyone regardless of their starting point, as long as improved health and wellbeing are at the centre of our goal setting.

Lastly, we need to engage with the fact that any level of change or commitment can result in positive results, with clients seeing measurable progress with as little as 40% compliance, which in most circles folks would feel ashamed of. This awesome piece of research by Precision Nutrition shows that half assing it works.

This is important to me because due to health stuff I recently put on a bunch of weight. And you know what, I really struggled with being a fitness coach who had unwanted body fat. But fuck it. Nothing that is great about me changed, I just shifted my position in societies expectations. That’s not my problem, but I am really grateful that I had learned to be kind and understanding and accepting as a coach, so I could apply that to myself.

We really don’t know how the human engine runs without shame as a driving factor, I for one would like to find out.

If you are interested in getting online coaching from me, you can sign up here. I open my coaching once or twice a year, so dont miss out. You can also find out more info on the program by clicking “procoach” at the top of the page!

The Broken Stair

Before the holidays a close friend of mine relayed an analogy that has been knocking around in my head since then, regarding interpersonal relationships.

He said every group has a broken stair. I looked confused.

He explained.

Everyone has that one person in the group that’s a broken stair. You know that it’s broken, so you avoid the step, and you get used to avoiding it. You still know it’s broken, but because you can still go about your day you never get around to fixing it. It may even bug you but you and everyone else, just never really  enough to do anything about it. People who are really bothered stop coming over. Sometimes you warn newcomers to watch out. Sometimes it’s a big joke.

Until someone gets hurt.

Every group has a broken stair. A toxic, or even abusive person that you have ignored and circumvented for so long that you forget about their behavior until someone gets hurt. You choose to forget.

Let’s say it’s not your responsibility to fix it, so you complain to the person whose responsibility it is (every group has a leader, sometimes it’s everyone, but someone is responsible). They can either fix it, ignore it, or tell everyone to avoid it.

The sad thing is, if they ignore it and you fix it yourself, it’s pretty likely that the person who is responsible will blame you for challenging their authority. It was theirs to deal with, and they needed more information! Or they needed to consider all sides! Or they had a plan you just couldn’t understand! You saw a problem, you fixed it, now you are the bad guy.

However, if you are the person responsible, fix the stair.

If you run a martial arts club, a gym, or you just have a social group: Fix the problem. Don’t avoid it. Don’t tell the people who complain (the people invested enough to try and improve things) not to worry. They are worried. They are right to be. Eventually someone will get hurt.

Here’s the thing, if you are leader you are always actively modelling behavior. If you don’t deal with problems, you create an environment where people don’t see those behaviors as problematic anymore and that directly impacts the make-up of the group and the well being of everyone.

Here’s the point*:

Do your fucking job. If you don’t want to do the job of a leader, don’t be a leader. Leadership is brutal. Being welcoming is brutal. Being fair is brutal.

The second you start ignoring the broken stair, you have failed as a leader. You can be a mess in any other aspect of what you do, you can be a royal fuck up, but your first responsibility is not to be a shit bag. Your second responsibility is not to excuse the shit bags.

After that, you can worry about rep schemes and study material. You can worry about logos and type-face. You can worry about being respected when you deserve it.

*(if there really is one)

It’s come to my attention that the phrase “the broken stair” is often used to describe consent issues. I am referring here to a broader issue around toxicity, boundaries, and abusive behaviors, however issues around consent and sexual harassment are definitely included in what I am discussing, and often those behaviors are all inter-related. 

Eating for the holidays

Cavaet: A week of eating what you want and not exercising will not significantly derail your progress. What derails people is the shame, feeling of failure and social judgements that come from  “falling off the wagon”. The point of this article is to help people make mindful decisions about eating and exercise during the holidays, however if you can come out the other side happy and not having damaged your mental wellbeing, then fuck it. Eat what you want, drink what you want. If you struggle with the emotional knock ons from that, this article may help.

 

Part one: Mental strategies

 

The holiday season is great. For some. But even when it’s great, it’s full of stress triggers, over indulgence, peer pressured eating and drinking, and socialisation with folks many of us have moved thousands of miles to not have to see any more.

 

Maybe an overstatement.

 

The thing is the holidays are tough, sure, but they are also a great opportunity to practice and play with the skills necessary the rest of the year round, because if you can stick to your dietary and lifestyle guns when all around are abandoning theirs (and trying to sabotage yours), you are sorted.

 

Now, I am not big on food rules, but I do believe that how we frame our decisions has a huge effect on out adherence. There’s a big difference mentally between can’t/shouldn’t and don’t/won’t. This piece will be split into two parts, the first looks at the mental architecture and how to think going into the holidays to maximise happiness and success, and cut down on post festive shame.  The second part will look at practical strategies.

 

1. Eat what you want, just make sure you want what you eat.

There’s a lot of good food available at Christmas/New Years and sometimes its just the easiest thing to decide that IF you are going to overeat its going to be on the things you really like. This means saying no to the things you don’t really want to eat, they are just available and being proffered under your nose simply to save room for the things you do want to eat.

 

This is a pretty simple mindset shift. Consciously engage with what you WANT TO eat, and make sure that if you do overindulge, you do so on things that really do push your buttons.

 

Here’s your mantra: “Sorry, I am saving myself for X”

 

2. Eat whenever, just not when you cannot fully enjoy it.

 

A lot of festive eating is distracted eating, and we are often doing it because it’s there, rather than we want it. Here’s a novel idea, what if you decided you wouldn’t put calories into your body unless you were fully engaged with enjoying it? Would you eat less? Probably. What I believe is important is that even if you didn’t, you would be considerably happier about what you ate.

 

Here’s your mantra: “Maybe later, I don’t think I’d really enjoy it right now because I am distracted”

3. Eat as much as you want, not as much is as available.

So, a last thing that can cause people to overeat is that they want the food, they are fully engaged, but they end up just having too much. A really simple solution is plan ahead of time to limit yourself to a single serving, and make sure that you get what you want in that serving. Take a moment before eating to decide you will only have one plate, or one dessert. Consciously engage with a plan.

Once you have had that serving, wait 20 minutes before you have anything else. If you are still hungry, then eat some more. Same between main courses and desserts.

Here’s your mantra:

I am full right now, maybe in a minute.

The second part of this article is available only to Patreon Supporters. You can pledge as little as a dollar here, and access this, videos and more every week. 

3 books that will make you a better person

If you want to be your best self, you have to have your views challenged. Here’s my top three books to make you a better person.

1. Resilience- Eric Greitens

“If you take responsibility for anything in your life, know that you’ll feel fear. That fear will manifest itself in many ways: fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, fear of hurt. Such fears are entirely natural and healthy, and you should recognize them as proof that you’ve chosen work worth doing. Every worthy challenge will inspire some fear.”

This is a deeply personal series of letters from Eric Greitens to a ex-navy seal buddy of his who is struggling with PTSD. In these letters Greitens explores themes of recovery, mental health, duty, honor and personal responsibility in a deeply intimate way. He draws on his own experiences as a navy seal, humanitarian and human being to provide a path to someone who is deeply lost in their own suffering.

Why it will make you a better person: This book, if written as a self help book would be just so-so, but the format of letters from the author to someone struggling to survive acts as a call to arms to engage with the world in a new way, and to be move forward with things as they are, rather than as we wish they were.

2. Crucial Conversations –Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny

“When under attack, our heart can take a similarly sudden and unconscious turn. When faced with pressure and strong opinions, we often stop worrying about the goal of adding to the pool of meaning and start looking for ways to win, punish, or keep the peace..”

This is a guide book to having difficult conversations when the stakes are high. It serves as a step by step walkthrough to having it out in a productive way for everyone involved. It also tackles why conversations are hard, and how we can be honest and minimise harm at the same time. This is not about skirting around the issues, or preserving peoples feelings at the expense of resolution, but understanding why feelings are on the line to begin with and how we all tell ourselves stories that may have unintended consequences.

Why it will make you a better person: When examining why people tell stories, put up walls, and otherwise resist the truth, it’s hard not see that we do that ourselves all the time. In examining how to get past other peoples resistance and bring them into the conversation, we can easily see how we too are guilty of the same things when we feel threatened.

3. The Gift of Fear- Gavin deBecker.

“Every day, people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in mid-thought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it. A woman could offer no greater cooperation to her soon-to-be attacker than to spend her time telling herself, “But he seems like such a nice man.” Yet this is exactly what many people do. A woman is waiting for an elevator, and when the doors open she sees a man inside who causes her apprehension. Since she is not usually afraid, it may be the late hour, his size, the way he looks at her, the rate of attacks in the neighborhood, an article she read a year ago—it doesn’t matter why. The point is, she gets a feeling of fear. How does she respond to nature’s strongest survival signal? She suppresses it, telling herself: “I’m not going to live like that, I’m not going to insult this guy by letting the door close in his face.” When the fear doesn’t go away, she tells herself not to be so silly, and she gets into the elevator. Now, which is sillier: waiting a moment for the next elevator, or getting into a soundproofed steel chamber with a stranger she is afraid of? The inner voice is wise, and part of my purpose in writing this book is to give people permission to listen to it.” 

This book examines the root of our most basic animal survival instincts, and how day by day we learn to ignore our gut feelings and the danger we can end up because of this. This book is particularly poignant if you identify as male, as it deals with a lot of the ways women in particular are put in danger by societies insistence that we put politeness ahead of safety.

Why it will make you a better person:
Sometimes you get a bad feeling about someone, and you should listen to that, but more than that you should respect when people get a bad feeling about you. Understanding our instincts and why we respond the way we do makes your more appreciate of other peoples boundaries and why it’s important to respect them.

Why I don’t believe in tough love

I don’t believe in tough love.

Yet, for some reason, society treasures it. We love the anti-hero archetype that speaks their mind and doesn’t bullshit (hey, people used this as a reason to vote for Trump, despite the fact that he wasn’t telling he truth to begin with), and there is something in that: The truth is important. We should value the truth. However, the truth is neither “tough” nor “weak”, those are in fact manners of presentation, and the need to be “tough” occasionally likely disguises the fact that when not being “tough”, the person has a problem being honest. They can only present the truth as something factual and unbiased, and kind of cruel. This has given us a biased view of what to expect and allow from a coach.

But here’s the million dollar question: what value does “tough love” have if you are just honest all the time? When you try to be as honest as possible (which you can do compassionately), you realise that “tough love” is just an excuse for lacking the ability to present things in the most effective way. It’s not about being the most right, it’s about being the most useful.

And that’s your failure, as the “tough lover” (please let that not be a phrase that catches on). That you use it as an excuse for not doing the legwork required to find out why someone is resistant to the truth or needs to be handled with care. People also often disguise abusive behavior as “tough love” and we cannot tell the difference.

Change, ultimately, requires a level of honesty with the self that is brutal and how that truth is presented, whether it is “tough” love or not, doesn’t matter as much as your relationship with that person. It’s going to hurt either way, but they need to know it hurts because it’s true, not because you are being hurtful.

It’s not a coach’s job to lay siege to a person’s defenses, because whether we agree with the reasons or not, they put them up because it makes them feel safe. We should respect that and endeavor to help them grow past the need for them, and that truly requires you to understand the person who built them in the first place.

Don’t celebrate tough love as a virtue, honesty is a virtue. Tough love is a marketing gimmick.

“Eureka, it works!…”

…They cry, waving before and after photos under your nose like they have solved one of life’s rudimentary problems, but “it works” is misleading when they are the ones defining what works.

This blog is a short write up on the ketogenic diet based on a request from a client of mine named Mike who wants some clarity on a hugely popular diet trend that is currently in vogue.

So what is keto? 

The ketogenic diet is any diet plan that places the body in a state of ketosis, which to grossly oversimplify is what happens when the body get’s inadequate carbs as fuel and starts burning fat in the form of ketones. This diet has a medical basis and was originally developed for the treatment of seizures (and continues to be used for this) and has also been used in the treatment of other medical conditions. It’s worth noting that ketosis is highly likely to be a state we would occasionally enter naturally based on food availability. It is a natural response to our environment. You can check out more info about the science behind the ketogenic diet here.

This diet is somewhat effective for weight loss and has a ton of other purported health benefits as well. It’s also very difficult to adhere to. It’s hard to deny that it is effective within a very narrow definition of goals, it is after all a magic bullet, however here’s my feeling on that:

Magic bullets sometimes work, but should probably only be used after you have actually tried regular bullets. 

So let’s dig into the problem of “it works!”

Claiming a diet “works” is dangerous. “Works” is a moving target based on what you define as your goals and often neglects the intangible like stress, happiness and unseen physical side effects like malnutrition.

For example: 

If someone who is 300lbs, inactive, and subsists on junk food goes on the paleo diet (this is a really common example) and sets the goal of losing weight, if they adhere to their eating guidelines they will likely succeed, and become a glorious before and after photo on some gurus website. We also assume that they are happier, which just may not be true.

The problem here is does this indicate that paleo works, or does one of the other changes this person made due to adopting a paleo diet actual hold the key? Here are a couple of factors that aren’t unique to the paleo diet but that are likely to be in play.

 

  • Reduction of processed foods
  • Reduction of overall portion size
  • Increased vegetable intake
  • Regular physical activity
  • Improved sleep, stress management, hydration
  • Increased mindfulness of food intake

 

Now, you are probably thinking “That sounds great, sign me up!”

 

However, none of the things on that list are inherently paleo. Nor are they inherent to ANY particular diet or dietary belief system. These are all tasks that I work on regularly with clients without the need to follow a strict diet.

In fact, someone will likely start hitting many of these with almost any dietary change, whether it’s due to an extreme diet or not AND the more unhealthy the person’s habits are right now, the more effective the very basic changes will be.

So where does this leave us with keto? 

Keto works, but think about it this way: If I already over eat on carbohydrates (one of the most common issues I encounter as a nutritionist), will it matter whether I reduce the carbs to a level that induces ketosis, or can I just reduce it little by little and end up the same place? We assume that because someone gets there by ketosis, that ketosis is the reason, but as in the example above, there are many other factors in play that go hand in hand with the extreme change.

So what are the risks?

 

  • Nutritional deficiency: Any time you drastically limit your dietary intake you run the risk of malnutrition, and the problem with malnutrition (remember the It works! problem) is that you can achieve your personal goals and it can take a long time for nutritional deficiencies to manifest. It is possible to do keto without this but requires serious dedication and oversight, preferably from a medical doctor.
  • Added stress: It’s tough, by far the hardest diet I have ever done was keto. You may get the physical benefits of keto, but that’s not a long-term health strategy if you end up chronically stressed about eating choices or worse, developing a form of disordered eating like orthorexia.
  • Joy. Are you ready to NEVER eat a bagel again when potentially the same results would be possible without that sacrifice? I’m not.
  • Terrible breath. Seriously. Ketosis gives you the worst breath imaginable.
  • Wasted time. The time spent diligently measuring food, checking your urine (oh, did I not mention that?) and navigating food choices when it could be spent doing other more important things.
  • Impacts on athletic performance. There is no evidence to support the idea that ketosis has ANY benefit for athletes AND in fact may inhibit performance.

 

Conclusion: 

There are benefits to doing keto, generally around treating specific issues like epilepsy, seizures or brain injury. In these cases, keto should be done under medical supervision.

For everyone else, somewhere down the line, you may need to chase the extreme in order to squeeze out every last iota of progress. The likelihood is though you don’t need that yet. Or for a long time. Or ever. Most people struggle around what we call the big 4 (the 4 biggest factors for health and longevity) which are: Maintain a healthy body weight (note that is not single digit body fat or even necessarily “lean”), don’t smoke cigarettes, eat 5 serving of vegetables a day, and exercise regularly. That, for most people, is where the real work needs to happen.

My response to the ketogenic diet is simple. Why bother? 

Conquering Fear with Mr. Bumble

Meet Mr. Bumble. Mr. Bumble is scared of everything.
Mr. Bumble is a foster rat currently in my care. He was found living outside. Before we took him in he was a day away from becoming snake food (seriously!) and at some point in his adventures he broke a number of toes, so he was likely in a lot of pain. Mr. Bumble was probably dumped by his owner because he was unwanted which for most rats would be a death sentence. But Mr. Bumble is a survivor.

However, survival comes at a cost. This wee rat is anxious about everything. He is jumpy, hates being picked up, and spends most of his day hiding in the lining of his cage. I won’t physically remove him from the lining because it’s important he has a safe space that no one violates right now. He has a hardwired fear response.

I’ll bet no one is reading this and thinking “That Mr. Bumble guy is an idiot, he needs to get with the real world!”. At least I hope not, you monster.

But we don’t afford each other the same consideration.

Fear is the result of trauma. Anxiety, PTSD, and just plain old phobias are hard-wired survival responses. Mr. Bumble isn’t an idiot for being nervous, and no amount of me shouting at him that I am trustworthy will change his hard earned knowledge.  Partly because he’s a rat, and I don’t speak rat, but mainly because trust is not demanded, trust is earned. If people do not trust you it is either because of something that has happened to them and outside of your control, or you simply aren’t trustworthy, which is all on you.

But I digress.

This process, the one by which trauma becomes an anxiety or fear, or even PTSD is an intrinsic part of who we are and has kept us alive and kicking up until now. These issues may inhibit our happiness, but they do have our best interest at heart and they long predate the part of our brain that can rationalize our experiences.

This is not meant as a pep talk. The idea that such complex issues can be addressed by a conversation or a blog post is just an extension of the “buck up kiddo” attitude that wouldn’t work with Mr. Bumble, so won’t with the people in your life who are struggling right now.

Working with abused and neglected animals has taught me that on a fundamental level when someone is anxious, when someone is nervous, or when someone is struggling that you have to just make space for them to work through that. You can’t force them, nor should you want to. We cannot see fear as a weakness to be cast off if fear is something that is truly looking out for us. People don’t conquer their fears by ignoring them. They do so by facing them, little by little. Sometimes it looks like what Hollywood has told us facing fear looks like. Sometimes it just means leaving the house.

My point is this: Make space in your life for other people’s fears including your own. Let them navigate trust with you as they see fit and respect their boundaries. None of you would expect Mr. Bumble to just decide to give up being afraid, so don’t expect it of others.*

As I write this Mr. Bumble has decided to leave the safety of my jacket for the first time on his own terms. He scampered about a bit on my lap and checked out everything and has now returned to the pee-soaked darkness (this is not a glamorous process). That’s enough adventuring for today. 

 

 

* You may have realised by now that the title of this piece is misleading because it’s not really about conquering fear, but honestly, who could resist the chance to call an article that? This is meant to instead help you take the first step towards conquering fear, which is accepting that fear is a valid emotion in you and in others.

Are you doing too much and eating too little?

Three times in the last week I have advised other coaches seeking help working on weight loss with clients to get them to do less, eat more, and be patient.
The common belief for weight loss is to eat less, train more, but more often than not when talking to other nutrition coaches their clients flounder not because they don’t take this ideology far enough, it’s because they go too far, too fast.

In all these cases their clients were eating too little and training too much to effectively lose weight. If this sounds counter-intuitive to the conventional wisdom that would be because like with most views on health, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

First off, your body jealously guards fat stores. They are necessary to survive. Humans need fat stores to be happy, healthy and hardy, and anyone who tells you otherwise does not understand basic biology. This means that if you cut your food intake too fast, your body responds as it does during famine times by reducing your energy usage to account for this apparent lack of food in your environment. This can also mean that any initial weight loss stalls out because all of the ways your body generally burns calories become more efficient in order to protect your life preserving fat stores. Simple solutions to this are reducing food intake progressively and slowly, ensuring meals are balanced and giving changes time to work. Many people (including coaches) don’t see a change for a few weeks and start drastically adjusting things to make it work.

The other factor that can be at play here is overtraining. Overtraining causes a stress response and a spike in cortisol, a stress hormone partially responsible for fat storage. This can result in poor adaptation to progressive training, stalled weight loss and general frustration. Training less and focusing on recovery (sleep, nutrition and stress management) can actually produce better long-term results AND you will feel better too.

If you have drastically increased your training and cut your calories and nothing is happening, maybe you have gone too far, too fast. Take your time, ease off the accelerator and stop thinking more is better.

Why “Clean” Eating Challenges Are Hot, Stinking Garbage

So, this clean eating challenge popped up in my feed a few days ago because several people I know are taking it. We’re about to go down a rabbit hole, so I guess before we begin I should clarify:

I don’t blame people for doing this stuff. I don’t blame people for hoping it will help them change. This is not about shaming people for being misled, but shaming those who mislead, both the original publishers and those that promote it who should know better.

Also worth noting, this piece is not unique. It’s yet another garbage solution to a systematic problem that for some reason people think can be fixed by slapping together shaming, judgmental language, bullshit science, and cute infographics. It has to stop. Cookie cutter one size fits all solutions make the problem worse.

Let’s begin:

1. The words “clean” and “detox” are completely meaningless, unscientific, and widely debunked. This is doubly true for the phrase “unprocessed foods” as it is used here when the plan explicitly tells you to process food (some processes, like cooking, can even make nutrients more accessible). Clean, being the theme of the entire piece is particularly likely to cause people to develop unhealthy views on food, guilt around “cheating” (another phrase in the piece) and an aversion to anything deemed “dirty”.

This is also quite classist, in that many people eat processed or “dirty” foods due to economic necessity, not because they have no other options. When your choice is between a hot, sit down meal in McDonald’s and a punnet of raspberries (Possibly grown using exploitative labor practices don’t ya know?) McDonalds is the smart choice. Survival mode has different rules.

2. Where did those calorie numbers come from? 1300-1600 is kind of, in an arbitrary way, within medically defined “safe” realms, however, depending on your size, genetics and activity level it may be dangerously low. They will certainly be low for anyone with a high activity level, and will likely impede athletic performance.

The issue here is that there is not assessment. Why pick a random number when you could give people instructions like “eat until you are full”. This is hard sure, but at least it’s developing a lasting, habitual change where you can listen to your body.

Why is a clean eating challenge a low-calorie challenge? Oh wait, it’s because like most of the writing on nutrition out there they have conflated “weight loss” and “health”. Weight loss might be a valid strategy for some to improve their health, but it’s all too common to assume it is the be all and end all.

3. Definition of Orthorexia, from Nationaleatingdisorders.org:

Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts, and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”

Now read that, and re-read the challenge. Not to big a jump to see how one turns into the other right?
4. Why is it low carb? Sure some people thrive on a low carb, or even no-carb diet, but without knowing what that person’s needs, genetics, and environment are like this is yet another silly, arbitrary instruction that has nothing to do with health, but the perception of health as it manifests in the media. I have done low carb, paleo, keto, and everything in between. Now I just eat in moderation and that has had a huge benefit for me.

5. This is described as low carb when it is actually low everything. It looks protein dominant because of how low the calories are, but for someone who was lifting heavy weights or training hard, the protein would likely be inadequate DESPITE the fact that this is described as low carb high protein. There’s a lot of protein proportionate to other macronutrients, but that’s only because the overall calories are so low.

6. Many top level coaches don’t give meal plans, and in fact, in many jurisdictions, you must be a regulated, medical dietician to do so (because the dietician is qualified to give oversight and personalisation). Meal plans, unless you are a top-level athlete or under medical supervision, don’t work, and even if they do they are a lot more effort than other changes you might make. Equally, they don’t give you the skills to navigate everyday food choices (something this plan calls “cheating”).

What’s worse and more likely to fail than a meal plan you got from the internet? A stupid one.

7. This is a pet peeve. No alcohol, no coffee, no red meat. The jury is out on whether these things are bad in moderation (and evidence may even suggest health benefits), so why include them? Is it because this meal plan was randomly generated by lab rats pushing buttons that say “Detox”, “Kale”, “low carb”, “cheat” and getting rewarded with low-cal, non-GMO, unprocessed kale pellets every time they created a sentence that has the right amount of judgment in it? We’ll unfortunately never know.

Conclusion:

This is just another fad in a long line of fads. Sure, it’s learned to dress itself up as well meaning, achievable and “healthy”, whatever that means, but it has all the hallmarks of yet another foolish, classist, unscientific attempt to repeat the word kale over and over again until people magically get healthier. You deserve better than a plan where a “snack” is two almonds and two prunes. This plan may work for some people, but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Remember: you can do the wrong thing enough and get results, particularly when you are the one defining “results”.

So what should I do instead?

So unless you think you are perfect (and that’s awesome, good job!), you likely know some area where you could improve your nutrition. It’s likely either eat less of one thing (eg. sugary drinks) or more of another (e.g. veggies!). So here’s how to build your own 30-day challenge.

Take that one task, let’s say cut out sugary drinks, and ask yourself:

What does this task look like over a month? E.g only drinking sugary drinks once a week for a month

What does this task look like over a week? E.g. when this week will I have a sugary drink

What does this task look like today? What can I drink today instead to make this possible?

Am I 90% likely to adhere to this task? Be honest. If the answer is no, that’s cool, revisit the questions above until you come up with a task you are confident you can achieve 90% of the time.

Do this for 30 days, and then revisit the questions. If you didn’t manage to stick to it as much as you’d like, just revisit the goal until it’s possible.

The aim here is not to just give up one thing (unless of course, that is all you want to do) but to get used to navigating changes yourself, without relying on arbitrary, often unhealthy instructions. Then end result in two weeks may be minor, but a year of making changes in this manner can be life altering.

If you are looking for unbiased, shame-free professional coaching email jon@blackdogstrength.com to get started.

Review: We’re Working Out! The Al Kavadlo App

So, I generally don’t do reviews, so it means if I am doing one I either love the product or I really hate it to the point I need to put it in print so that I can stop being angry about it. Luckily (for you) this is the former.

Over the weekend, I was asked for help by someone who is an avid weightlifter, but due to work commitments (the film industry) she cannot get time to stick to her regular lifting program. I had been aware of Al Kavadlo, arguably one of the masters of modern no-equipment bodyweight training and, through his website, I found his app; We’re Working Out!

First of all, this is one of the nicest designs for a fitness app I have ever encountered. It’s easy to use, doesn’t overload you with info and everything is accompanied by tiny animated versions of Mr. Kavadlo himself doing the exercises. This feature is adorable and earns it bonus points because most apps use videos (often hard to view on a smartphone) or animations that are very much a faceless, generic, super jacked fitness model. This may not affect your ability to understand the exercise, but it certainly endears me to the product.

The workouts are simple, easy to follow and as promised use virtually no equipment. They are scaled based on ability, but you can also choose different types of workouts like 5×5, or 100 reps. These are based on progressive exercises that built on each other as your progress. It also contains some advanced skill based progressions like a human flag program for those of you that have a “hold my beer” streak.

The thing, however (tiny adorable Al animations aside), that sets this app apart for me is that it has assessments. Many programs fail to correctly establish your level first meaning that programs are either too easy or too hard, and this is a recipe for failure. The assessment is simple, here’s a series of movements, complete them with good form and without breaks and you are ready to move onto the next level. This scalability makes the program 10x more effective and really sets this apart from other apps, which generally only count weights, sets, and reps.

Finally, this app is free of macho bullshit. The animations, the language, and even the name “We’re Working Out” is a refreshing change in the face of the image generally presented in the fitness industry, and what else could we expect from an app developed by a man renown for smiling while performing the toughest bodyweight exercises out there.

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This app is cheap (about 12 dollars CAD, and you can get all the novice workouts for free before you upgrade), it’s effective and you should have it on your phone, if for no other reason than to see tiny Al doing the toy soldier warm up.

Available on Android and iTunes.